Nov 19, 2015

Blue Ribbon Winners!

Each year, the Crew members vote on what our favorite review products for the year were. These votes are tallied and the winners in each category are given a Blue Ribbon Award. I have this year's winners at the bottom of this post, however, my family did not review every product the Crew received. We didn't even review a product for each category! So the kids and I went over the list of what we did review and picked our own favorites for the year.

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Kaytie's Top Four:
1. ARTistic Pursuits (middle school book 1)
2. USAopoly (Tapple and Wonky)
3. Eat Your Science Homework
4. Piano With Willie

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Nate's Top Five:

Daniel's Top Three:
1. USAopoly (Tapple and Wonky)
2. Fix It!
3. In Freedom's Cause

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Abbie's Top Three:
1. USAopoly (Tapple and Wonky)
2. Maestro Classics: The Nutcracker
3. Eat Your Science Homework
4. Simply Fun: Shape Whiz

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My Top Ten:

And, finally, the Crew's Blue Ribbon Winners of 2015!

Favorite Reading Curriculum: Reading Kingdom
Favorite Writing Curriculum: Institute for Excellence in Writing
Favorite Vocabulary Program: Dynamic Literacy
Favorite Spelling Program: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Phonetic Zoo
Favorite Grammar Program: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Fix-It! Grammar
Favorite Penmanship Program: CursiveLogic
Favorite Literature Curriculum: Progeny Press
Favorite History Curriculum: Home School in the Woods
Favorite History Supplement: Heirloom Audio Productions: In Freedom's Cause
Favorite Science Curriculum: Visual Learning Systems
Favorite Science Supplement: Ann McCallum Books: Eat Your Science Homework
Favorite Math Curriculum: CTC Math
Favorite Math Supplement: SimplyFun
Favorite Christian Education Curriculum: Grapevine Studies
Favorite Christian Education Supplement: Brinkman Adventures

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Favorite Foreign Language Curriculum: Middlebury Interactive Language
Favorite Fine Arts Product: Maestro Classics
Favorite Elective Curriculum: Apologia Educational Ministries: Field Trip Journal
Favorite Audio Drama: Brinkman Adventures
Favorite Video:
Favorite Preschool Product: La La Logic
Favorite Elementary Product: Star Toaster
Favorite Middle School Product: The Critical Thinking Co
Favorite High School Product: Writing with Sharon Watson
Favorite College or College-Prep Product: Freedom Project Education
Favorite Parent Product: Koru Naturals
Favorite Planning Product: Apologia Educational Ministries: The Ultimate Homeschool Planner
Best Resource I Didn't Know I Needed: Homeschool Planet
Best Online Resource: Super Teacher Worksheets
Best e-Product: Home School in the Woods
Just for Fun: USAopoly
Kids' Choice: La La Logic
Teens' Choice: YWAM Publishing
All Around Crew Favorite: Institute for Excellence in Writing

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Nov 13, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: GrapeVine Studies

Grapevine Studies Review

We were asked to review a fun product from GrapeVine Studies. We received three different levels of this product.

Old Testament 1: Level 2 Creation to Jacob
Old Testament 1: Level 3 Creation to Jacob
Old Testament 1: Level 4 Creation to Jacob

For each of these, we were given a digital download (PDF) of both the Teacher Book and the Student Book. 

As you probably guessed, this is a Bible study curriculum. Intended for use at home, at church or in a school setting, it's simple to use yet a quite effective method. You start by choosing the part of the Bible you want to study, and matching that with the age of your students.

Grapevine Studies Review

I chose Creation to Jacob because I wanted several different levels and because I like to start at the beginning with things. :) And I just matched my kids up with the ages given for each level. But if you want to be more scientific with your choices, you can read about the levels, and/or there is a handy little chart for that.

Grapevine Studies Review

The student books are the worksheets. These you print and hand over to your student. The teacher book has all the instructions and information in it for the lessons. It starts by explaining the mission of GrapeVine, the teaching method, and their statement of faith. It explains that doctrine is not a part of the lesson... GrapeVine is doctrine free and the beauty of the method is that each teacher can inject their own doctrine as they teach. 

There is a supply list, a suggested schedule and an overview of how to teach the lessons. Don't skip these pages as they are vital to understanding how you are to instruct and guide your students through their worksheets. 

Each lesson is loosely scripted, just enough to give you an idea of what to say, but you can easily add to the script in whatever way you need. The script is really just an outline. Along with the script is the backbone of the method... illustrations. Not just any illustrations, but easy-to-draw, colorful, meaningful stick-figure illustrations. You, the teacher, draws these illustrations as you talk, and then the children draw them on their worksheets. Which, I guess, really aren't worksheets at all, but "sketch pads". 

The drawings engage the kids, involving them in the lesson in a hands on way, and also provide a visual for the child to retain the material and. later, to review it. 

I am no artist, and although some of my kids are quite into drawing, I have one who most decidedly is not. However, we had no problem copying these illustrations and they even looked like they were supposed to when we were finished!

Using the PDFs, this was completely an open-and-go curriculum for us. I spent a few minutes one afternoon printing off the worksheets and then the next day we just jumped right in.

Each lesson starts with a Timeline page. I read the material out of the Teacher book and drew the pictures on the whiteboard. They copied it onto their pages with no problems. For Abbie, I did need to help her find a couple of things the first time we did it, but she got the hang of it quickly. Since I have a copy of a fully drawn sheet in my lesson plan, I knew exactly where everything was supposed to go.

Next, I read a bit of the Bible and tell them the story. Again, the script is just to give you a jumping off place for your teaching. The kids draw pictures in boxes as you teach. This keeps them busy and helps them remember the key points of the lesson. Each lesson has a memory verse and built-in review. 

Each level is basically the same in pacing and style, so that you can teach different levels together. But each level requires a little bit more of the student, incrementally making it harder and stretching your student. So Level 3 has more memory work and more writing than Level 2. But Level 4 takes it up another notch. This level has a "Quest Page" for each lesson, and teaches the students how to use a Bible concordance, a Bible dictionary, and a topical Bible. It also asks an open-ended question. For instance: When God gives a command, what options do we have?

The Teacher books have two levels in each book. So you have one book with Levels 1 and 2. And the next book has Levels 3 and 4. For the most part, the lessons are the same in both books, so you can choose one book to use if you are teaching more than one level at a time. The upper level, however, does have page number answers to the Quest Pages in level 4. 

There are specific books recommended for your concordance, Bible dictionary and topical Bible that go along with Level 4. We, however, already owned different versions of these books so we just used them. It worked well as far as my daughter (who used Level 4) was concerned, but it made my life more difficult since I couldn't just use their page numbers to check her work. 

As I said, this was a simple product to use, and the kids enjoyed it. I can't tell you how effective it was, because my kids already knew these stories well. But I was able to use the device to dig a little deeper into the stories. I also really liked how the theme of the Bible overall was plugged into each and every lesson. 

I heartily recommend GrapeVine Studies and hope they quickly come out with a lot more topics for all levels so we can plunge into some really great Bible studies!
But you don't have to just take my word for it, you can check out some Sample pages.

Grapevine Studies Review
Crew Disclaimer

Nov 11, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Critical Thinking Co.

I may have, in the past week or so, ranted at my children not to be sheep. Not that they were in any danger of it, but my greatest parenting fear is that they will grow up to the kind of people that jump on bandwagons. I shudder to think of it. I want them to not only be able to think for themselves but to actually do it. On a regular basis. In light of this, we have been working on logic skills lately with the help of The Basics of Critical Thinking (grade 4-9) from The Critical Thinking Co.

Now, we have reviewed for The Critical Thinking Co  before, so I knew that we would be getting a quality product. The Basics of Critical Thinking is a big, thick, soft-cover book. It's purpose is to teach middle schoolers (well, grades 4-9) the skill of thinking critically. It defines critical thinking as "finding and evaluating evidence to try to make the best decisions", and it teaches those skills using a lot of examples and plenty of practice. Basically, the goal is to teach the students how to identify half-truths, insufficient evidence, false claims and weak arguments. 

The book is divided into 19 different sections (you can see the Table of Contents on their website) followed by post-tests. Each section is interactive, with a mix of reading and answering questions. The pages are full color and engaging. The book is actually a workbook and the student is intended to write in it. This makes it consumable, but permission is granted to make copies within your family.

I was going to tell you what the questions were like, but there is a pretty wide variety. Some are true/false, some are fact/opinion. Sometimes there is a story and questions are asked about that story. Sometimes a picture is shown and the student draws conclusions or not about the picture. Here is a sample of a couple of the pages:

Since my kids are writing-phobic, and this is a subject that I definitely want to keep light and fun, we did all the work orally. Kaytie, Nate and I worked through the book together, as a group. They would gather up on either side of me and I would read the material and the questions aloud. They took turns answering questions, unless it was an opinion type question when they would both answer. We spent probably fifteen minutes a day on it and worked our way steadily through the material. 

As I say, logic and critical thinking is something that both my husband and I have worked to instil in our kids since they were babies. However, there were many concepts in this book that stretched them. Nate struggled with the difference between fact and opinion because in his head, if he thinks it is so then it is. His opinions are synonymous with fact and your facts are merely opinions unless he agrees. So we had some rousing discussions over those lessons. :) 

Kaytie's struggle was with jumping to conclusions but at least she is more willing to admit when she is wrong. Sometimes. :)

Most of the time, I am able to decide on the spot if their answers are correct or not, but if I ever have any doubt, all the answers are in the back of the book.  

I asked the kids to tell you what they think about it:

Kaytie: It's easy because it introduces each step gradually. The problems are solvable but challenging enough to actually make you think about it. I would recommend this for kids who are interested in learning to think, even younger kids.

Nate: It was awesome. It wasn't really hard, but it was fun and still got the point of the lesson. It was really cool. It had different things to do so we could practice all the new skills. I loved it. I learned the difference between true and probably true. I learned that instead of just looking at part of the evidence, to look at all of the evidence. 

But I just have to add this:

Last week, I told the kids the review period was almost over, and I asked. "What do you want to do? Keep on with this book or start a different one that I have?" 

Nate answered, "Let's do this book, but let's do it every day and work on it longer each time!"

You know it's successful when they are learning and asking for more!

Our other The Critical Thinking Co. reviews:

World History Detective
Crypto Mind Benders

The Critical Thinking Company Review

Crew Disclaimer

Nov 10, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Ann McCallum Books

If you know us at all, you know that we love science around here. Some of us also love food. So the idea of mixing science and cooking and eating was in exciting one. So we eagerly agreed to review the book Eat Your Science Homework by Ann McCallum Books.

This is a beautiful, full-color book with a lot of engaging illustrations. It is a soft cover book. It contains a blurb about the scientific method, a brief overview of safety in the kitchen, six recipes, a section that reviews all the science learned by cooking the recipes, an index, and a glossary. For such a little book, it packs a powerful punch!

The recipes, of course, are the main focus of the book, that is where the science comes in. Each of the six recipes is based upon a scientific principle. This principle is thoroughly explained in the text and well demonstrated in the recipe. 

There is a section to read before the recipe that talks about the science involved. Sort of setting up the demonstration. Then each one has complete instructions for what you need to do. These instructions are divided into clearly marked categories: 

  • Before You Begin prep time, cooking time, total time, oven temperature, yield and difficulty level
  • Ingredients full list of everything you need to cook the recipe, even optional items
  • Equipment a full list of all your non-edible supplies like foil, spatulas, mixing bowls and what type of pan you need
  • Method clear, easy to follow directions to prepare the recipe
This was a fun book to use. My kids are older, so they were able to follow the instructions pretty much on their own and use the book independently. I had them read all the science information. Well, one of the big kids would read it aloud so the little kids wouldn't get bogged down in the reading since they are slow readers. Then they worked together to gather the supplies and cook the recipe. Then we would have a review of the science information as we ate. They didn't always enjoy the recipes, but some of them were quite tasty! Our favorite, I think, was the popcorn balls. Popcorn is our family's favorite snack and we all have a sweet tooth. 

The kids also enjoyed just looking over the illustrations. 

This is what the kids thought in their own words...

Kaytie: I liked the variety of science topics. Like there was one about minerals, one about space, and one about chemistry. I liked that the recipes were easy to make and they explained the science concepts very well. 

Nate: I liked the Black Hole recipe. It tasted disgusting, but it was so cool that it sucked up the bacon! I liked how the different recipes had something to do with science facts. It's a fun way to learn science. There should be more to it, though! 

Daniel: I liked the popcorn balls! Because I love popcorn and atoms are cool. I love learning about them.

Abbie: I liked the atomic popcorn balls. I liked the invisible ink snacks and the fingerprint cookies. They tasted really, really good. And they were fun to make. 

I thought this was an excellent product as far as it went. I liked what it had to offer and we enjoyed it thoroughly. However, I didn't think that six recipes was enough for a whole book! I wanted more! More recipes and more choices and more science. I also wished that the book was more "kitchen friendly". I wish it was less likely to smudge and get dirty. I wish it had a spine that we could lay the book flat when it was open or even just fold it back so we didn't have to worry about holding it/ losing our place.

Ann McCallum Books Review

Crew Disclaimer

Nov 9, 2015


We try to do nature study, but it usually takes the unplanned form. Like when one kid yells, "I found a lizard!" And everyone else runs to see. Or when we pause to admire a beautiful sunset. Or when the kids gather beautiful leaves and we take pictures or draw them. Or when another kid finds an insect or a plant that they want to know more about and we Google it.

But sometimes, I do actually make the time to do a more formal nature study. Last week, we dropped everything one afternoon and went to explore our arboretum. It's not very big and we can, if we go slowly and absorb everything, see it all in a couple of hours. But it's beautiful and it's fun.

The kids love sniffing flowers, keeping an eye out for bunnies and butterflies, and admiring trees. These trees are my personal favorite...

They especially love the Five Senses Garden where they can touch, smell, see, and taste freely. 

But this time, we discovered an extra bonus. 

Through a gate that we had never noticed before, we found a nature trail. A beautiful little path between two ponds that gave us a glimpse of water, trees, turtles, ducks, rocks, and more...

Nov 4, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Brinkman Adventures

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review
Over the years, I have often heard of the audio drama Brinkman Adventures, and made a mental note to check it out. But I never did. Until I got the chance to review The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review
This radio show was created by a large, Christian, family, and the stories are a clever mix of the kids' real life fun and the true adventures of missionaries and other heroes from all over the world. You can read the story of how Ian Bultman got the idea for this series here

But don't be fooled, this is no "bathrobe production". I was impressed by the high quality of the acting, script, and presentation of the material. Our attention was caught immediately and the story was easy to follow even though it was all audio and no pictures. (That's a big deal for my visual-learner family!) 

Season 3 consists of twelve episodes, but some of them are two-parters, so it's really just ten different stories. Each episode is about half an hour. We usually listened to a couple each time. We learned about Tomas, who smuggled Bibles after asking God to give him impossible things to do. We listened to the story of  how a little girl's sacrifice changed the hearts of men and the lives of children, and learned how meeting Jesus changed the unhappy Waodoni into a supportive society that helps the weak. 

The heart of all the stories are true. The majority of all the events really happened. However, there is a little liberty taken with the stories in order to make them easier to tell in a thirty minute show. This fictionalizing most definitely does not affect the truth of God's amazing power that shines through each and every story. And just to clear up any confusion, you can read The Stories Behind The Stories which tells you which parts are facts and which parts are fictionalized in each tale. 

These stories can be purchased either as a CD or a MP3 download, but we were given the CDs. In the afternoons, when the baby was asleep, I would gather the kids into the living room, put a CD in my laptop, and we would listen to an episode or (usually) two. The kids would draw, color, build with Lego, or just curl up on the couch and listen. 

I enjoyed these stories because they were so full of God's provision and power. I loved hearing about lives being changed and the Lord flexing His muscles to protect those and provide for those sharing the Gospel. The story of Steve Saint was one of my favorites. My son was named after Nate Saint and that group of missionaries has always been special to me and had a great impact on my spiritual life. So hearing about "what happened after" was especially cool to me. 

The kids said: 

Kaytie: I liked it. It was interesting. It made me think about being a missionary. I've always wanted to be a missionary, but hadn't known that there were different types of missionaries. They were exciting stories. I would like to listen to the other seasons now!

Nate: I liked listening to stories about how God protects people and helps people who are trying to serve Him. It was kind of cool when God made miracles happen in the stories. I would recommend this to kids who like to learn more about Jesus. 

Daniel: I liked it because it was about how Jesus helped the people spread the Gospel by carrying Bibles across the border and other ways. I liked how God provided miracles for them. 

Abbie: It was cool. I liked how they mixed up the Brinkman's stories and the missionary stories. My favorite part was how the pastor felt when Tomas brought him all those Bibles! 

We loved Brinkman Adventures and think you will, too! But don't just take our word for it, read more reviews by clicking the banner below!

Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review

Crew Disclaimer


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